Advent 2013: The Usual Suspects

oil_lampA few thoughts after posting 2013’s fourth and final Advent reflection . . .

This year, my reading of the familiar—oh so familiar—scriptures inspired me to imagine a few moments in the lives of Advent’s “usual suspects.” As always, I didn’t know exactly what I’d write until each essay was finished. But I was confident Isaiah would make an appearance, initially assumed Mary or Joseph (or both) would be ignored, and had no idea a Pharisee would encounter John the Baptizer. Ah well . . . humans plan, the Holy chuckles.

As the digital dust began to settle, these questions nudged me . . .

  • What caused Isaiah to claim the imagery of turning swords into plowshares?
  • What made John the Baptist’s message compelling, but inadequate, especially in the eyes of a “religious authority?”
  • Wouldn’t self-doubt and confidence accompany Mary’s anticipation of birth? And . . . could Mary have heard Hannah’s song/prayer for inspiration?
  • Why did Joseph, key to the nativity stories, vanish from the verses that followed?

Behind all the questions is a core belief: Christmas is a myth. The facts about Jesus’ birth are sparse and pedestrian. He was born. He had parents and siblings. And from birth to death, Jesus lived under Rome’s brutal, corrupt government. Continue reading →

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Husband, Father, Friend, Lover, Dreamer

Matthew 1:18-25  – The 4th Sunday of Advent – for December 22, 2013

“But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…” (Matthew 1:20)

maryandjosephI was there when Jesus was born. I will never forget that.

And I remember all my children in their first moments, for what man doesn’t want to be a father? What man doesn’t want sons to grow and prosper? What man doesn’t want to give daughters away to good men who’ll care for their families?

When younger, so very long ago, I had dreams. Doesn’t everyone? I daydreamed of accumulating wealth, owning land, for my neighbors to call me “Sir” and seek my advice. But I also admit to the nighttime dreams. Don’t all men dream of women? Being pleased, and pleasing. Being wanted. Being desired. And then the woman arrives, when you know in your bones you want to spend the rest of your life with her, and the dreams of trivial lust transform into tender love.

She comes to me now. My angel. Carefully, she places the bowl of thin soup on the nightstand. She lights the lamp and soon four weak flames flicker. I know she seeks to give me her most encouraging thoughts, but I also sense the unavoidable truth reflected in her eyes. We both know I’m closer to the end than the beginning.

Steam swirls and rises from the bowl. The soup is all I can eat now. She lifts the bowl to my lips, positioning it so the crack James made when he dropped the dish years ago won’t pinch my flesh. We couldn’t throw the bowl away. How can you throw anything away that reminds you of your children?

“I had a dream,” I say. Continue reading →

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Luke 1:47-55  – The Third Sunday of Advent – for December 15, 2013

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Luke 1:47)

DespairI can’t read.

I can’t write.

But I can listen . . . and remember.

I left my home and village to come to this place. Here, my family welcomed me, and their presence—along with food, shelter and other kindnesses—has made me feel safe.

Except, I don’t feel safe.

Alone at night, I light a lamp. Then two. Then three. But it’s not enough. I could light a thousand more flames and this room would still feel shrouded in darkness that has nothing to do with the night.

My mind is troubled.

And yet my soul sings with joy.

How can this be? How can I lay awake, unable to sleep, thoughts racing about all the doubts I have, all the terrible things that could happen and all of the ways the future will never be what I want and still I feel . . . confident?

I repeat the words I remembered and treasured:

My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.

I do not speak them above a whisper, for I don’t want to wake the rest of the house. It’s enough these three lamps might be seen, might cause my cousin Elizabeth to come in and ask me again—for the hundredth time—how are you doing? Is there anything I can help with? Are you sure you’re fine?

Of course I’m not fine.

She knows that. If I were fine, I wouldn’t be here.

I repeat the ancient words again. The priest back home, who probably didn’t know I’d been secretly listening as he read from the wrinkled scroll in the synagogue, called them Hannah’s prayer. Did Hannah know how to read? Did Hannah know how to write? Like me, did she feel foolish or useless? Or did she only know how to trust God and believe that her child Samuel would be the one that God sent?

I repeat Hannah’s words again. Continue reading →

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